Renowned chef Peter Berley once headed up Angelica Kitchen and cooks for private clients in the Hamptons, but he spends most of his time these days teaching non-chefs how to make their own fresh, healthy meals.
“You never stop learning how to cook. It’s not a prescription or a pill or about ‘open a box and add water and stir,'” he says. “It’s a relationship to history, to your traditions, to your emotions, and the fabric of your life. That’s where I teach from.”
Berley, the author of several best-selling cookbooks, including The Flexitarian Table, which comes out in paperback this month, currently teaches at The Institute of Culinary Education and The Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, and recently began creating online classes for the website Craftsy.
And then there are the classes he teaches in his own kitchen on Long Island’s North Fork, where students gather vegetables from his lush garden and learn to bake bread in a wood-fired oven, while sun streams through a skylight. (Cue city-dweller sighs.) He gave us a peek inside this good-for-you culinary wonderland, where fermented foods are plentiful and kale grows year-round.
So obviously we’ve got to start with those chickens. Explain! Those are from Browder’s Birds, a farm owned by Holly and Chris Browder in Mattituck. Their chickens are amazing—they’re pastured birds and certified organic. You can’t get more free-range than this. Mine had a dry rub on them for a few days, just kosher salt and pepper, so the skin gets really dry. I have them stuffed with herbs, garlic, and lemon, and I don’t put any fat on them. You don’t need to. I like to do high heat roasting, but these I did low and slow because they’re active, older birds. I roasted them in the wood-fired oven at 300 degrees for about three hours.
And what’s in the white container next to the eggs? That’s sourdough starter. A big part of my life is teaching people to bake sourdough bread. If you know how to make your own bread and ferment vegetables, you can create staples for yourself. Then you just need dried beans, fresh meats, fresh seafood, and you can really eat well.
Got it. I know you’re into eating super seasonally, but what do you do during these cold winter months? I still have kale in the garden now. Frost doesn’t kill kale if you cover it. I put plastic over it, and over leeks and carrots. And there are still plenty of farms around, like Ty Llwyd, three miles from my house. I get all of my milk—it’s raw—and eggs from them. And rutabagas and celery root and sweet potatoes and kale—they have that now. They have a really good root cellar.
And the fermented veggies you mentioned? Yes, I have a lot, as you can see on the door. I put kimchi and sauerkraut in my basement, cucumber pickles and green beans and chiles. I still have canned tomatoes. I bought like 100 pounds of organic tomatoes from a neighboring farm and canned them. And then there’s local seafood—we’re in scallop season right now.
It all sounds so idyllic, but also like a lot of work. Do you ever get sick of cooking? Like anything, you need to take a break from any activity, whether it’s playing music or writing a book, anything that’s demanding. But cooking is a way of life for me. I can’t imagine going through a day without cooking at all. To me, it’s like speaking, or walking. —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information, visit www.peterberley.com